Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What Do You Keep Coming Back To?

I distinctly recall hearing the idea of the importance of stuff you keep coming back to twice in my life. I may have heard it before, but two times really stick in my mind. They seemed to "sink home" if you will.

First Time: I worked for a successful business owner when I first got married. I had gotten fairly close to him and he would occasionally share bits of "wisdom" with me. At one time I knew he was considering a hefty investment and had been struggling with it for several months. He came to me one day and explained he had decided he was going ahead with the investment. He said he had learned that in trying to decide if something was "right", "prudent" or "wise" there was always something to be said for it if it kept coming back to your mind again and again. He felt like he had really deeply pondered the idea and that it "just wouldn't leave him alone".

At the time he told me this I was somewhat dubious. I mean some people wrestle with doing some rather inappropriate or even wrong things for a long time and it certainly "keeps coming back to them", like some sort of evil obsession. But I knew right off this is not what he meant. e was talking about choosing between two good things. There were different ways he could have used his money to profit--both had risks and both had about equal payoffs. He had weighed the options carefully, even let it be for awhile when the right answer didn't seem to be forthcoming. But one of them kept coming back again and again. That was one way he knew he had to act on it.

Second Time: I was reading a book about training horses. I'm not a big equestrian, but I do have two daughters and we do live in the country. Twice now we have owned horses, and well that's why I was reading a book on training horses. I'm much more of a cat man personally... But that is not my point here. In the introduction the author was writing about hobbies, and how time consuming horses were. He was asking the reader to really weigh in their minds if horsemanship was something they wanted to pursue, simply because horses take so much time and effort and if you're going to do it, you need to be really sure that you love it. He used himself as an example and said he had done different things in his life, pursued other interests and did enjoy them--but he always came back to horses. There it was again. Always coming back to something. He said that was a sure sign that something was really a part of you, something you couldn't put down. Your life would be incomplete without it. He felt that way about horses. Obviously I didn't, and neither did my daughters--we own no horses now.

So What's My Point?

Well, if it isn't obvious by now, gaming is. No matter what I try and pursue, what I try and replace it with, I always come back to gaming. I write; I study philosophy, history, religion and spirituality; I fly-fish; I tie flies; I draw; I play music; I hike; I fence; I do martial arts; I watch way too many sci fi/fantasy/horror movies; and on and on and on. But nothing holds my interest like gaming.

Of course, that could go without saying. I run a gaming blog. I've started others. Well, set them up. But have never posted more than two posts to them, and still pull them off line. I'm just not as passionate about anything else like I am about gaming. But lately I have been thinking about this even more. If you read my last few very sporadic posts you probably know that I'm struggling attending a regular group. I'm busy, I'm tired, I'm blah blah blah. The fact is I really miss gaming and it's starting to affect me in not so good ways. As the wise guru Jack Torrance in The Shining said "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." And dull doesn't even begin to touch it.

So, besides my endless campaign creating which never seems to quite go anywhere without players to spur me on, I have begun perusing my modest library of gaming books. I think I own something like 20 to 30 different games. Most are fantasy and most are out of print.

That's when the thought occurred to me. Which one do I always go back to? Which ones are "a part of me" and which ones are just passing fads. Admittedly this could be subject to my moods at the time, but which ones call me back again and again and again? This is what I came up with:

  • Fantasy is the clear winner, with horror a distant second
  • AD&D 1e & HackMaster 4e is probably the first
  • But HackMaster 5e is a very close second
  • After that Basic D&D begins to look good, especially the Lamentations of the Flame Princess variety
  • And close on its heels comes another basic version: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
  • I would place Adventures Dark & Deep next, but see it as more of an "addition" to 1e
  • And Castles & Crusades becomes my default for a lot of games just for ease of use
  • After that it becomes a bit fuzzy and Call of Cthulhu gets pulled off the shelf more than others
I will say this. I NEVER pull my Pathfinder, 3.5 or 4e books off the shelf. Unless maybe I'm going to play a game with them. I have even wondered if some of my reluctance to commit to the latest group I found has been hampered because they are playing Pathfinder. It's more than a little likely. But my desperation to play and my giddiness caused me to accede to this--my bad.

What really interests me today is why HackMaster does it for me? I mean I know why I pull AD&D off the shelf. It's my roots, my foundation, the yardstick by which I measure all other things gaming. But I'll admit, though a bit reluctantly, that when I read AD&D nowadays it doesn't leave me super excited to play it. It's fun to read, and I appreciate it for other reasons, but I see it in a slightly different light now. Don't get me wrong, I would _so_ much rather play it than Pathfinder or most of the other games I own. But something in the game doesn't quite capture the "feel" of playing the game. Forgive me, but I have frequently fallen asleep re-reading the AD&D rule books. And frankly a lot of the way the rules were composed had little effect on the "way" we played the game. How the heck to I reconcile that?

Which makes me consider the books I like reading. I like reading HackMaster books. I laugh out loud, can anticipate how a rule will play, and revel in the "mood" and "tone" that the book conveys. In a lot of ways it conveys the "feel" of the way I used to play. I also like reading DCC RPG and LotFP, but moreso because they remind me of the genre of weird fiction that I so love. I recently explained to my brother that those games are highly evocative and appeal to my at times dark fantasy, horror tinged sensibilities--but I would hate to actually live in a world like that. That's actually very important to me. From early on in my gaming life I dreamed of passing over into the fantasy world of my dreams. A world like GreyHawk of the Flanaess. Where, great wonder, magic and danger abides. Though I love reading about them, actually living in a Poe/Lovecraft/Smith world is not an exciting prospect. So yes, I pull them off the shelf, DCC and LotFP, and I love their writing, their weirdness, their uniqueness and their strange fantasy milieu, but I can achieve that to some degree in any world. In a world where there are also safe cottages in benevolent woods, good fairies and protective druids, noble knights and honest kings. Where I can share a cup of tea in a hobbit hole but still adventure off to face the dangers of a true fantasy world. 

Anyway, that explains why I am drawn to those others, and perhaps why I am so drawn to HackMaster. Hackmaster provides me with the living embodiment of the "way I used to play". I'll admit the rule changes in 5e make me nervous, leery even. But I can see why they are there, they make sense, and if I could play them I could begin to get a real feel for them. As for now, I just keep being drawn back to them, to HackMaster--again and again and again. 


  1. Hi Chris, good to see another post from you again! Great post, I can relate because I've been reflecting on what inspires me of late, and I too keep coming back to gaming.

    If I were to think cynically about it, perhaps I can't let go of roleplaying because it was my hobby of choice to escape a less-than-ideal childhood. Perhaps it just became a crutch or some ingrained habit, that cynical part of me says.

    But then I remember that roleplaying is more than a crutch, or a habit. It's what gave me a training ground for my creativity, my imagination. It's what helped me hone my storytelling skills, my acting skills. It's what helped me come out of my introverted shell. I owe a lot to the hobby...well, to me, it's more than a hobby. It's a way of life, almost.

    Lately, I've taken a hiatus from actual play in order to pursue some long-put-off dreams. But these dreams are fueled and influenced by my roleplaying history, have no doubt.

    Anyway, be well and hope to hear more from you soon!

  2. Hi Anthony! Sorry, I've taken so long to respond. I read your comment some time ago, but forgot to respond to it.

    There is something about gaming that is fundamentally archetypal. I think that's one reason at least that it speaks powerfully to some people. Some, like you mention, find that it connects them with powerful imaginal abilities that take them in other directions. Others find it a well they return to often to drink of waters we seldom find elsewhere in our busy work-a-day world.

    For me it has been both. I find that my spiritual/archetypal/creative energies are more solitary, and my gaming outlet more social but in the same vein.

    Whatever the case it's the best darn hobby around for people like you and me :-)
    --peace and adventure